Today’s Solutions: October 03, 2022

From The Intelligent Optimist Magazine

Fall/Winter 2016

European nations are finding that by working on one problem—sheltering the waves of refugees in ways that help integrate them into their new homes—they also can address other, seemingly intractable problems: Affordable housing for lower-income families. Long-term shelter for the homeless. Enlarging and shrinking a household’s living space to fit with its needs through the life cycle, without people needing to move out of their longtime homes. Even school construction is a possibility.

The myriad innovative answers to housing were outlined in an article by Fast Company. According to the publication, German towns are working on housing citizens and refugees together by, for example, building housing on stilts over a university parking lot, in which both students and refugees make their homes. Another German town constructed an apartment complex for refugees and the homeless.

Architecture students at Leibniz University are looking at other ways to put underutilized space to work as housing for people. That might be on unused barges in canals, Fast Company reported, or in abandoned train stations.

Authorities in Paris are considering placing tiny houses for refugees in homeowners’ backyards. The asylum seekers would help build the homes, which would help train them for future jobs, the Fast Company article said, as well as integrate them into the larger society.

Perhaps the most innovative ideas have come out of Finland, according to the article. It is examining ways to build temporary refugee shelters that could then be easily converted into schools or day care centers, filling a growing need; the nation already needs to rebuild or replace many of its aging schools.

Another design would create apartment buildings that offer flexible spaces within each flat, using built-in partitions that could be opened or closed. In times when housing is especially tight, apartment owners might be asked if they would be willing to have a room or more space partitioned off for a new refugee; the tenant would get a steep discount in rent. Once again, the concept would house refugee families with Finns, leading to better integration and cultural understanding.

But the design offers broader benefits as well, the article said. Helsinki already is dealing with a housing shortage, and the partition design would allow families to expand their living quarters as needed—such as when a couple has children—and shrink their space when children move out. That way, it might be possible for retirees who live in an apartment that’s too big for their needs to reduce their apartment to more livable dimensions, without moving from a place they have considered home for many years.

It’s not surprising that Helsinki would be this forward-thinking; it’s already the city with a pilot program to help its elderly citizens with companionship and care while providing inexpensive housing for students and millennials who find the city’s rentals too costly: The young people are given reduced rent in a home for older people, in exchange for giving three to five hours of their time helping the elderly residents. By solving one problem, housing, authorities are also breaking down the walls of social isolation. 

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